My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: John Wayne

Spotlight Artist: Garth Brooks

garthTroyal Garth Brooks was born February 7, 1962 in Tulsa, Oklahoma as the youngest child of Troyal Raymond Brooks and Colleen Carroll. His father worked in the oil business while his mom was a country singer, signed to Capitol Records in the 1950s. Young Brooks was required to participate in his family’s weekly talent nights, where he learned to play both Guitar and Banjo.

As a teenager, Brooks turned his attention to athletics. He was on his high school’s football, baseball, and track & field teams. He was talented enough to earn a track scholarship to Oklahoma State University (in Stillwater) where he competed in Javelin and earned a degree in advertising.

Brooks would begin his professional music career shortly after graduating college in 1984. He played the club circuit around Stillwater and sang the wide range of music he was exposed to in his childhood. It wasn’t until he came across a recording of George Strait’s debut single “Unwound” that he decided to set his sights on country music.

A year later he caught the attention of Rod Phelps, an entertainment lawyer from Dallas, who urged Brooks to go to Nashville and make a go at the big time. His first trip to Nashville in 1985 was a 24-hour disaster. He returned home and married Sandy Mahl, a woman he met while working as a bouncer at a local club. The couple moved to Nashville two years later and Brooks began making headway in music city. He connected with songwriters and producers and began singing demos. With a powerful management team behind him, Brooks pursued a record deal. He was passed over by every label in town, finally getting his deal when an exec at Capitol Records, the same label his mother recorded for thirty years prior, saw him perform at a local club. This came six months after they had previously passed on him.

Brooks released his eponymous debut April 12, 1989. (J.R. Journey reviewed the album as part of our Class of 1989 coverage in 2009). Like most of the era’s neo-traditional leanings, Brooks’ debut skewed hardcore country. His debut single, “Much To Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” peaked inside the top ten while the follow-up “If Tomorrow Never Comes” became Brooks’ first #1 hit. He would top the charts again with the album’s final single “The Dance,” which featured a masterful ACM and CMA winning music video that depicted historical figures (John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr, Keith Whitley, Lane Frost, the Challenger Astronauts, and John Wayne) linked by their tragic deaths.

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Fellow Travelers: Eric Hilliard “Ricky” Nelson (1940-1985)

Ricky NelsonThe late 50s and early 1960s saw many so-called heart throb artists pushed off on the American teenage population. Most of them were very attractive guys who had a strong visual appeal to teenage girls, but had minimal singing talent, which meant that they had a few hits before their fans moved on to other artists .

Ricky Nelson was one such artist, who also had the advantage of a weekly platform on his parents popular television show THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET. Unlike most of his teen-throb counterparts, Ricky Nelson had real talent and was able to sustain his musical career throughout his short life, charting 53 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1957 and 1973.

WHO WAS HE ?

Ricky Nelson was the younger son of big band leader Ozzie Nelson and Ozzie’s featured singer (and later wife) Harriet Hilliard Nelson. Ozzie’s band was very successful, having many hits including a #1 record in 1935 with “And Then Some”. From 1944 onward, Ozzie & Harriet were involved in the THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET, initially on radio and then from 1952 to 1966 on television. Starting in 1949 Ricky and his brother David had roles as themselves on the show.

After his death, Ricky’s sons would score a #1 record recording as the group ‘Nelson’, making the Nelson family one of two answers to the trivia question “what musical family had #1 pop records in three consecutive generations?”.

Ricky Nelson’s recording career began in 1957 when he covered the Fats Domino hit “I’m Walking'” b/w “A Teenager’s Romance”. Both sides charted in the top four. From there Ricky would have eighteen top ten records through the end of 1963 including two #1s in “Poor Little Fool” (1958) and “Travelin’ Man” (1961). Ricky’s records were always noted for having a really tight band with ace guitarist James Burton featured on most of his records.

In addition to his family’s television show, Ricky Nelson appeared in several films including the classic western RIO BRAVO with John Wayne.

WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC ?

Ricky Nelson recorded and release many country songs both as singles and as album tracks. County radio played many of his singles with five of them charting country including his #10 cover of Hank Williams’ “My Bucket’s Got A Whole In It” and “Poor Little Fool” which reached #3.

Several of Ricky’s pop hits that did not chart on the country charts, were either country songs such as “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” or songs written by songwriters such as Baker Knight who came to be identified with country music. Moreover, many of Ricky’s songs have been covered as album tracks by country acts including such songs as “Hello Mary Lou” , “Travelin’ Man”, “Lonesome Town” and “Never Be Anyone Else But You”.

After the “British Invasion” wiped out the early rock & rollers and the “Philly Cream Cheese” doo-woppers, Ricky Nelson went more overtly country in his musical quests, recording a pair of straight ahead country albums for Decca, BRIGHT LIGHTS AND COUNTRY MUSIC and COUNTRY FEVER, both really solid albums.

Toward the end of the 1960s and tired of being considered an “oldies” act, Nelson revamped his name and image, becoming Rick Nelson and putting together the Stone Canyon Band, a country-rock band which featured former Buck Owens’ Buckaroo Tom Brumley on steel guitar. The band issued five albums, all of which charted. The fourth and most successful album 1972’s GARDEN PARTY charted both pop and country and also charted in Canada. The featured single “Garden Party” was Rick’s first top ten single in nine years reaching #6 (also #1 on the adult contemporary chart and #1 on the Canadian pop chart). “Garden Party” would prove to be Rick’s last real hit.

When Rick died in a small plane crash on December 31, 1985, millions mourned. He was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and has also been elected to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Album Review: Alan Jackson – ‘Thirty Miles West’

Listening to a new Alan Jackson album is much like watching a John Wayne movie; one pretty much knows what to expect and there are very seldom any big surprises, yet when it’s over, one usually feels satisfied and fully entertained. His latest effort, Thirty Miles West, is his first release on his own imprint, through a new arrangement with EMI Nashville. Despite the label change, the album’s content is still very much in the same vein as most of his Arista albums. Longtime collaborator Keith Stegall is once again in the producer’s chair.

Radio seems to have cooled towards Jackson lately; aside from his guest appearance on the Zac Brown Band’s #1 hit “As She’s Walking Away”, he hasn’t scored a Top 10 hit in three years, and the first of Thirty Miles West’s two advance singles, the self-penned “Long Way To Go”, failed to reach the Top 20. A catchy, fun, if somewhat unoriginal Jimmy Buffett-style summertime song, it deserved to chart higher than its #24 peak. The current single “So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore” currently sits at #26. It is a very nice break-up ballad written by Adam Wright and Jay Knowles, in which the male protagonist graciously offers to take the blame for the relationship’s failure.

One of my favorite tracks is the energetic bluegrass-tinged “Dixie Highway”, which features a guest appearance by Zac Brown. It’s the best of the six songs that Alan wrote for the album. At nearly seven and a half minutes, it is too long to be a single, though a heavily edited version might eventually be released to radio. I also quite “Life Keeps Bringing Me Down”, which is a real toe-tapper and not a mournful ballad as the title suggests.

The album does contain a few missteps; Alan’s compositions “Everything But The Wings” and “Look Her In The Eyes and Lie” aren’t quite up to his usual standard. Likewise, “She Don’t Get High” — which despite its title isn’t about a recovering addict — is a bit pedestrian; however, it is just middle-of-the-road enough that it might have a shot at being well received at radio.

There are no great artistic stretches here; Jackson remains fully within his comfort zone for the entire album. However, it is a solid and entertaining album that holds its own against Alan’s impressive back catalog. Sometimes that’s all that the listener wants, especially in an era in which country music is increasingly overwhelmed by over-the-top pop and rock. It remains to be seen if Thirty Miles West can revive Alan’s radio career, but even if it does not, it is one of this year’s better efforts and is worth buying.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Willie Nelson – ‘Heroes’

Nearly two decades after he departed Columbia Records, Willie Nelson has rejoined the Sony Music family with Heroes, which was produced by Buddy Cannon and released last week on the Legacy Recordings imprint. He is joined by a number of guest artists, including Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson, Sheryl Crow, Billy Joe Shaver, and Snoop Dogg. Also participating are Nelson’s sons Micah and Lukas. Sounding very much like a younger version of his 79-year-old father, Lukas performs on most of the album’s tracks and does the heavy lifting much of the time.

As is usually the case with a Willie Nelson album, the selection of songs is eclectic. A cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” was released as a single late last year. Three more singles were released almost simultaneously last month. “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die”, a lighthearted number that makes pokes fun at Willie’s well-known marijuana habit, was released on April 20th, or “420 Day”, which apparently is significant in the cannabis subculture. “Just Breathe”, a Pearl Jam cover and “Come On Back Jesus” were released the following day in celebration of Record Store Day. I particularly like the latter, which calls for the second coming of Christ and asks him to “pick up John Wayne on the way.” I’m cool with that. Rounding out the track list are some covers of some western swing classics: Bob Wills’ “My Window Faces The South” and Fred Rose’s “Home In San Antone”, as well as the Ray Price classic “This Cold War With You”, on which Price makes a guest appearance. Also included are some original tunes written by Willie, Lukas, and Buddy Cannon.

Some of the guest appearances are my favorite moments on the album. While I wasn’t too excited to see Snoop Dogg’s name on the guest roster, his contribution to “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me While I Die” wasn’t bad. Sheryl Crow, the lone female guest artist, chimes in on “Come On Up To The House”. But the album’s true highlights are “A Horse Called Music”, which reunites Willie with Merle Haggard and “Cold War With You” featuring Ray Price. Although the presence of Lukas Nelson on most the album’s tracks is clearly to compensate for the elder Nelson’s fading vocal prowess, both Willie and Merle Haggard are in surprisingly good vocal form. Ray Price’s voice, on the other hand, is showing signs of wear and tear, and Kris Kristofferson was never much of a vocalist anyway.

Although I’m biased towards some of the album’s older songs, the contemporary fare is almost as good. I quite enjoyed “That’s All There Is To This Song” and “The Sound Of Your Memory”, which was written by Lukas Nelson with Elizabeth Rainey. Despite the inclusion of the Coldplay and Pearl Jam numbers, this is very much a country album, and one that does not pander to current commercial trends. There is much here for the country fan to enjoy, and Heroes is almost certain to end up on many this year’s best albums lists.

Grade: A

Moonlighting

They’re gonna put me in the movies,
They’re gonna make a big star out of me.
We’ll make a film about a man that’s sad and lonely,
And all I gotta do is act naturally.

— Buck Owens, 1963

I’ve been watching a lot of classic films lately, revisiting old favorites that I haven’t seen in a long time, as well as finally watching a few that I hadn’t gotten around to yet. I caught a showing of True Grit on cable the other night; I’d seen it once when I was very young but I had forgotten most of it. The 1969 Western earned John Wayne the only Academy Award of his career. It also marked the first major silver screen appearance by Glen Campbell, who had been hand-picked by The Duke to be his co-star. Although he garnered a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcomer, I found Campbell’s performance to be unimpressive. In fact, Campbell’s unconvincing portrayal of a Texas Ranger, combined with a very irritating lead female character played by Kim Darby, made it nearly impossible for me to enjoy the picture.

Of course, one tends to cut Campbell some slack when taking into account that he is primarily known as a singer, and not an actor. It made me realize that while many singers have dabbled in acting (and many actors have attempted to become singers), people who actually excel in both fields are few and far between. There is no doubt after watching Pure Country, that George Strait’s decision to to pursue a music career instead of an acting career was a wise one. Ditto for Clint Black, who turned in an embarrassing performance in the 1998 made-for-television film Still Holding On: The Legend Of Cadillac Jack. Randy Travis’ decline on the music charts is partially blamed on the amount of time he spent away from Nashville, trying to break into the movies. Dwight Yoakam, on the other hand, earned critical acclaim for his performances in Sling Blade and South of Heaven, West of Hell, and a handful of other pictures.

Kris Kristofferson is somewhat of an anomaly in this category, since he is a much better actor than singer. With nearly 90 theatrical and television films to his credit, he is probably Nashville’s most prolific ambassador to Hollywood.

Overall, the women of country music seem to have fared better in Hollywood than their male counterparts. Dolly Parton made her film debut in the 1980 comedy 9 to 5. She seemed perfectly at ease on the big screen, though admittedly, the role of Doralee, like most of the other roles that followed it, was not a huge stretch for her. Barbara Mandrell experienced some modest success after being bitten by the acting bug when her music career was winding down. In the 90s she had a recurring role in the daytime drama Sunset Beach and she made several guest appearances on other television shows of the day, such as Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Walker, Texas Ranger.

However, with the possible exception of Kristofferson, Reba McEntire is arguably the country singer with the most successful acting career. Her first foray into film was 1990’s Tremors. That was followed by a string of television movies, including a co-starring role with Kenny Rogers in The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw. Eventually she earned critical acclaim on Broadway and then went on to star in her own sitcom for five and a half years.

Still, at the end of the day, all of these people will be remembered for their contributions to music, rather than as great actors. Some day we may see one of Nashville’s finest thanking the Academy as he or she accepts his or her Oscar, but I think that day is still in the distant future.

What country singers do you feel have done a particularly good or bad job moonlighting as actors?